The Custom Tailor Made Dress Shirt
November 23rd, 2001
THE DRESS SHIRT COLLAR
When purchasing a dress shirt that is, one intended to be worn with a necktie consider its collar first. Regardless of whether the shirt appears to go perfectly with your new suits, or is meticulously crafted with vast numbers of stitches to the inch, or even woven in the Caribbeans most lustrous sea island cotton, if its high-banded collar looks at if it might swallow up your neck or its diminutive collar make your already prominent chin appear more so, move on. You need to focus on that portion of the dress shirt responsible for exhibiting to best advantage the body part that should receive the most attention your face.
The triangle formed by the V opening of a buttoned tailored jacket and extending up to the area just below a persons chin is the cynosure of a mans costume. There are several dynamics working simultaneously to directly under the face, the wearers most expressive body part. Second, the area is usually accentuated by contrasts between the darker jacket and lighter shirt, the jacket and tie, and the tie and dress shirt. This triangular sector offer, the wearers most expressive body part. Second, the area is usually accentuated by contrasts between the darker jacket and lighter shirt, the jacket and tie, and the tie and dress shirt. This triangular sector offers more visible layers of textural activity than any other part of a mans outfit, and the point at which all these elements converge is directly under ones chin, where the inverted V of the dress shirt collar comes to a point.
Think of your face as portrait and your shirt collar as its frame. The collars height on your neck as well as the length and spread of its points should compliment the shape and size of your face. Within the infinite permutations of angle, scale, and mass, no single article of apparel better enhances a mans countenance than the well-designed dress shirt collar. Since a persons bone structure is fixed, although it will be affected by a weight gain or loss, the choice of collar should be guided by the individuals particular physical requirements rather than the vicissitudes of fashion. Unlike other less visible accoutrements such as hosiery or shirt cuffs, this focal point constitutes one of a mans most revealing gestures of personal style. All sophisticated dressers have arrives at one or more collar styles that best highlight their unique features while managing to add a bit of dash along the way.
Choosing the appropriate shirt collar requires experimentation and common sense. A smallish man with delicate features would be lost in a high-set collar with points longer than 3 ¼. Conversely, a heavyset or big-boned man would loom even larger and overshadow a small collar. Collars should counterbalance the facial structure by either softening its strong lines or strengthening its soft ones. Long straight point collars those 3 or more will extend and narrow a wide face just as the broad-spaced points of spread collars will offset the line of long narrow one.
Tab collars or other pinned collars have the necessary height to shorten long necks. Strong-chinned men require fuller proportioned collars, just as large tabletops clamor for ample pedestals to achieve aesthetic balance. Though, admittedly, button-downs can look casually stylish, they are too often favored by exactly the kind of men who should avoid them the double chinned set. Softer-chinned men need slightly higher and firmer collars to compensate for the lack of a strong line under their face.
Throughout the eighties and up through the mid-nineties, most dress shirts-no matter how expensive-generally had collars that were to small for the average wearers face. In an effort to convey that were too small for the average wearers face. In an effort t convey a more casual and less structured formality, mens fashion has explored many approaches to neutralizing the collars conventional starched and ordered format. Consequently, collars have been lowered, shortened, and softened to such degrees that the original precepts for their correct proportioning have either been distorted or lost completely. Button-downs have little or on roll, straight point collars are so short even the smallest tie knot prevents their point from touching the shirts chest, while speared collars are so low on the neck they have been sapped of all their strength and flair. Except for those produced by a few high-end American, English, or Italian shirt makers, most dress shirt give the impression they are apologizing for their collars. The explosive growth of the made-to-measure dress shirt business owes much of its prosperity to the dramatize a mans features. By the end of this decade, there will be more properly scaled collars on dress shirts than there were at its commencement.
I cannot help but wonder whether the long-understood sartorial contract between a man and the conventional format of a buttoned-up dress shirt and drawn-up necktie which, in effect, exchanged superior stature for a measure of restriction is no longer able to be negotiated. Since many of the contemporary, more diminutive collar styles fail to heighten the wearers appearance, they offer little compensation for their inherent discomfort. As a result, many alternatives have been put forth in an effort to replace the classic dress shirt collar composition.
However, as Oscar Schoeffler, longtime fashion editor of Esquire, once warned, Never underestimate the power of what you wear. After all, there is just a small bit of you sticking out at the collar and cuff. The rest of what the world sees is what you drape on your frame. Therefore, the most important factor to weigh when buying a dress shirt isnt its color, fit, or price. It is the collar and its smartness for the wearers face.
Other than the Italians, who are almost fetishistically meticulous about the fit of their dress shirts, most men wear theirs too short in the sleeve, too small in the collar, and too full around the wrist. The explanation for this is relatively straightforward: successive washings shrink collar size and sleeve length, while most shirting manufacturers allow enough breadth in a mans cuff to accommodate a large wrist girded by a Rolex-type watch.
The best dress shirt is useless if its collar does not fit comfortably. With the top button closed, you should be able to slide two fingers between your neck and the collar of the dress shirt. Most better dress shirt makers add an extra ½ to the stated collar size to allow for shrinkage within the first several washings. I would never wear a new dress shirt unless it fits perfectly around the neck in the store or when first tried on at home, return it or risk being strangled by a smaller collar before too very long.
The back of the shirt collar should be high enough to show ½ above the rear portion of the jackets collar. Its points should be able to touch the shirts body and rest smoothly on its front. When a tie is fitted up into the collar, its points should be long enough to remain in contact with the shirts body, regardless of how sharply the wearer turns his head. No part of the collars band should be able to be seen peeking over the ties knot. Semi spread to cutaway collars should have no tie space above the ties knot. In other words, both sides of the collars inverted V should meet or touch each other while the edges of their point should be covered both jackets neck.
DRESSING THE HAND
The band of linen between coat sleeve and hand is another one of those stylistic gestures associated with the better-dressed man. It has been so ever since the first aristocrat wore his lace ruffles spilled out from beneath his jacket cuffs. Some fashion historians mark the decline in modern mens style from the point at which ready-made buttoned cuffs replaced cuff-linked ones and men found their wrists swathed in excess fabric, which either fell down their wrists or pulled up too short.
Whether you choose a button cuff or a French cuff, the shirt cuff should fit snugly around the wrist so that the additional length required to keep it from moving as the arm stretches does not fall down over the hand. If you can slide your hand though the cuff opening without first unfastening it, it is too large. If the sleeve is long enough and the cuff fits correctly, you should be able to move your arm in any direction without influencing how the cuff sits on top of your hand. The shirt cuff and hand should be able to move as a unit.
During the 1960s peacock era, when dress shirts had the fit of a second skin and were worn to flaunt the chest and arm muscles, the wearer had to pay particular attention to gaping shirtfronts if he inhaled too deeply or Sat down. Today, with comfort driving the fit of mens clothes, issues such as these are no longer of much concern.
The shirt should certainly be full enough to allow its wearer to sit without concern. Normal shrinkage or a slight weight gain should not render it uncomfortable across the chest or waist. Since shirts with blousier fits tend to have lower arm holes, one should pay attention that the jackets armhole does not pull up the shirtsleeve, making it too short to rest on the top of the hand. A shirts armhole should fit comfortably up into the armpit for easier movement and consistent length. The shirts overall length should be such that you can raise your arms without pulling the garment out of the trouser top.
IN CONSIDERATION OF QUALITY
The most expensive component of any dress shirt is its fabric. As the layer in closest contact with the wearers skin, the most comfortable and luxurious fiber to wear is unquestionably 100 percent cotton. Anyone doubting this need only examine the fiber content of almost all mens undergarments.
Better dress shirts are made in two-ply cotton or two-fold yarns, less expensive ones in single-ply. Cotton-poly blends are never two-ply, therefore these fabric tend to be found only in cheaper shirts. In a true two-ply fabric, the yarns used in the vertical warp and horizontal weft are made from two fibers long enough to twist around each other to produce the incremental strength, silkiness, and luster associated with the two-fold luxury fabric. The finer the yarn, the higher its threads per-inch count. Two-ply fabrics start at 80/2 (the 2 representing two-ply) and progress to as fine as 220/2 (which feels more like silk than cotton and is so expensive it is use only in custom-made shirts). Since two-ply dress shirt are costlier, most manufacturers will include this designation on the label. If it is not so designated, it usually means the shirt is of a single-ply fabric and its cost should reflect this.
Most two-ply dress shirts begin retailing at $75 for those privately labeled in large department stores and go to well over $200 for those more highly crafted with finer-count two-ply fabrics. This is not to suggest that single-ply dress shirts are necessarily inferior to or automatically less desirable than two-ply versions. Since we know how a poorly designed collar can scuttle the most expensive dress shirt, the two-ply designation reflects a garments intrinsic quality and not its relative value.
The better dress shirt is one of the few products whose craft has been relatively uncompromised by modern manufacturing technology. Due to the many pieces that must be put together and the exacting sewing procedures required, there is no substitute for the skilled, highly trained labor needed to produce a fine dress shirt. As it is not covered over by linings and such, a dress shirts construction, with the exception of collar and cuff, can be more easily evaluated than that of tailored clothing or neckties. All of its stitching, seams, and finishing are plainly exposed to the inquiring eye, especially if one knows what to look for and why.
There can be some details of workmanship that, should even one be found present, signal your investigation is at an end and the shirts dearer price has been confirmed. Most of these benchmarks are holdovers from a less mechanized age when the standards for deluxe quality were set by bespoke shirt makers. No manufacturer would willingly invest in the labor required to make such a shirt without ensuring the fabric was of a quality that justified the products retail price. He would be hard-pressed to recoup the cost of such craftsmanship if it was wasted on a shirt composed of inferior cloth.
The handmade buttonhole is a detail rarely found in shirt made outside of France or Italy. If you have a shirt with handmade buttonholes it represents a piece of workmanship that literally comes from the old country. Now, some custom shirt makers will argue in favor of a fine machine-made buttonhole over a handmade one, but handmade buttonholes are a mark of top-drawer threads. Ironically, their imperfect and visible portion can only identify them. As with legitimate custom tailored clothes, buttonholes are to be handmade, nothing less.
When dress shirts were worn closely fitted to the torso, their side seams were much in evidence and their width and finishing were considered two of the most important criteria for judging their shirt making craft. I can recall visiting Italy during the sixties and observing the Romans wrapped in their skintight, darted blue voile shirt with side seams that seemed to disappear into minute lines that traced the body. These side seams were of a single-needle construction. If the shirt you are considering has this feather, you are no doubt holding a garment that will command a better price.
Single-needle side seams are sewn twice, once up and once down the shirts seam, using only one needle and leaving just a single row of stitches visible on the outside. This is time-consuming and requires greater skill on the part of the operator than other seams. Most shirts side seams are sewn on a double-needle machine, which is much faster and produces two rows of visible stitching. Unfortunately, the double-needle side seam can, depending on the quality of its execution, pucker over time due to the thread and fabrics different reactions to washing. However, since most modern shoppers are not that informed, the single-needle side seam is rarely found on ready-made shirts, and is almost exclusively reserved for those dress shirts found in the world of the bespoke.
Another telltale sign of an expensively made dress shirt can be found in the bottom tails design and finishing. Charvet, the famed French chemisier, designs its shirts with a square bottom and side slits or vents, which they feel produce less bulk under the trouser. They also believe their deeper sides keep the shirt better anchored. Turnbull and Asser, the Jermyn Street shirt maker, prefers the rounded bottom but reinforces its side seam at the bottom with a small triangular gusset. Either of these designs demands greater labor and expertise than the typical hemmed bottom. Prior to World War II, the gusset was a common feature on better shirts, but production costs forced many manufacturers to abandon this old-fashioned finishing technique.
The next nuance of detail that signals a dress shirts loftier pedigree is the direction of its sleeve plackets buttonhole. All better shirts come with a small placket button and buttonhole to close the opening running up the inside sleeve from its cuff. However, a horizontally sewn buttonhole is evidence of meticulous crafting, since the button must be lined up perfectly with the buttonhole, unlike a vertical placement, which allows a greater margin for error. Since this detail is easily detectable, it can make any examination a short one.
The last sure giveaway of rarefied shirt making can only be detected in a shirt made of a striped fabric. Should the stripe of its sleeve line up exactly with the horizontal line of the yokes stripe when they meet at the shoulder seams, you are in the presence of shirt making art. Generally, this kind of work is reserved for the custom-made dress shirt, but should you find it in one ready-made, be prepared to pay at least $150.
The next passel of workmanship details should be present on all deluxe-priced ($125 and up) dress shirts whether they are representing themselves as better ready-to-wear, made-to-measure, or even custom-made. While it is more difficult for the beginner to identify these details once learned, less well-made dress shirts become much easier to spot.
The stitching on a shirts collar and cuffs should be so fine as to be nearly invisible. If you can clearly see each individual stitch sitting on top of the fabric, its manufacturer is less costly. All better dress shirt collars have removable stays. The shape or pattern on either side of a shirts collar parts or cuffs should match exactly. Pockets should be lined up so that they virtually vanish from sight. Buttonholes should be finished so that it is difficult to see their individual stitches. Buttons should be cross-stitched for extra strength, an operation that cannot be performed by machine.
Real pearl buttons are to fine shirt what authentic horn buttons are to expensive sports jackets. If a sewing machine needle hits a plastic button, the button shatters; should that same needle strike a pearl button, the needle shatters. Authentic mother-of-pearl buttons, especially thicker ones, are incredibly sensual to the hand and eye, as well as costing ten times the price of the typical plastic button.
DRESS SHIRT AESTHETICS
While the dress shirt functions as a backdrop for necktie, braces, jacket, and pocket square, there are two options in furnishing this stage. The first and by far the more popularly practiced method employ the dress shirt as a neutral foundation. As such, the elements are either harmonized upon it or one is emphasized over the others, such as the bold print tie against a solid white shirt. In this presentation, the shirt acts purely in a supporting role.
The alternative approach casts the dress shirt as leading man at center stage. This style emanated from England and is reasonably easy to execute if the principles governing its execution are well understood. In socially conscious London, an upper-class man would signal his membership in a particular club, regiment, or school through his choice of tie. Since these neckties designs were fairly standard and limited in number (there being, after all, only so many organizations the wearer could claim as his own), he tended to punctuate his somber and predictable business ensembles with more strongly patterned dress shirt, the very lesson Londons Jermyn Street became so renowned for gentlemens dress shirts. In this approach, the tie, shirt, and pocket square act as subordinate players to the shirt. A well-endowed collar was essential to convey the shirts leading role and the wearers loftier station, which is why English-bred dress shirt tend to have more prominent collars than their European or American counterparts.
As either of these approaches can project considerable sophistication, one last issue remains in guiding a man toward an informed dress shirt purchase. This concerns the stylistic consistency of the shirts parts. For example, regardless of how beautiful its fabric or fit, a double-breasted jacket with a center vent remains a half-breed, a mixed metaphor, a sartorial mutt. A garments detailing must be in character with its fabric, or else, like a pinstriped suit with patch pockets or flap pockets on a tuxedo, the wearables integrity and classiness is compromised
Here are some general guidelines specific to the styling of mens dress shirts:
The smoother and more lustrous the fabric, the dressier the shirt. On the scale of relative formality, blue broadcloth ranks above blue end-on-end broadcloth which, in turn, ranks above blue pinpoint oxford, which in finer and dressier than regular blue oxford. But royal or queens oxford, which is made of a two-ply yarn that gives the oxford weave greater sheen and a finer texture, is comparable to end-on-end broadcloth in its formality. The more white that shows in the ground of a check or stripe, the dressier the shirting.
Different collar styles also connote varying degrees of dress-up. Spread collars are generally dressier than straight point collar and become even more so with each degree of openness. White contrast collars dress up any shirt no matter its pattern or color, and should only be worn with a French cuff in either self fabric or contrasting white. However, a straight point contrast collar in white is as much a sartorial oxymoron as button cuffs on a dress shirt with is as much a sartorial oxymoron as button buffs on a dress shirt look less authentically classy in collar models less open than a semi-spread, because their to-attach stiff progenitors could only accommodate a four-in-hand if there was enough width to the collar opening. Tab, pinned, or eyelet collars can also give a fabric a more decorous look. If you see a blue oxford shirt decorated with a white spread collar or a button-down collar loitering on a dressy white ground English striping, avoid these mongrel offerings, for their questionable propriety will do nothing for yours.
Most of the criteria for purchasing a classically styled dress shirt have little to do with price or even the quality of the fabric. If a relatively shirt made with a mediocre fabric has a collar that is flattering to your face and affords you the right fit, it will render greater value to you than a more expensively made shirt with neither of these attributes. Value has to do with longevity of wear, as ultimately, the most expensive clothes a man can buy are those that rarely come out of the closet.
The above article is from The Style and The Man by Alan Flusser